Mission Anniversaries

This past Monday we marked the 528th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World. He reached an island in the Bahamas on October 12, 1492. He named the island for the holy Savior, San Salvador. [Spanish]

Mother Carini statue NYC w sculptors
New statue of Mother Cabrini in Battery Park, NYC, with the sculptors

Up in New York City, they marked the anniversary by unveiling a new statue of St. Francis Xavier Cabrini—also Italian, like Columbus. The new statue of Mother Cabrini looks out over New York harbor, towards the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Mother Cabrini helped a lot of the immigrants who came into our country through that little island.

Sunday we mark the 374th anniversary of the martyrdom of St. Isaac Jogues. He came to the New World to evangelize, and he gave his life for the Gospel, along with the many other missionary martyrs of the Americas. Eight other Jesuits died as martyrs here in what is now Virginia.

No co-incidence then that this Sunday is “World Mission Sunday.” At Holy Mass, we will hear these words of Christ in the gospel reading: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. Give to God what belongs to God.”

Now, if our First Parents had never disobeyed God; if life on earth were just like eternal life in heaven, then the Lord would never have had to make that distinction, the distinction between the secular and the sacred. If we still lived in the Garden of Eden, God would be our Caesar. Politics and religion would not be different things. But the malice of the devil entered human history when Adam and Eve fell. This has had many terrible consequences, as we know. One of them is: We American voters have to cast our ballots in a presidential election in which Jesus Christ is not one of the candidates.

Some of us older folks remember the year 1992, when our Church celebrated the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the New World. Pope St. John Paul II visited the Caribbean to mark the occasion. We Catholics rejoiced together that the Gospel had reached the western hemisphere, and we Knights of Columbus took pride in our namesake. Our Christianity is the jewel of our lives; we should never take it for granted.

christopher_columbusWe weren’t born knowing about Jesus, after all. Someone had to teach us. Someone had to give us the sacraments of grace. Jesus gave the Apostles their mission; others have followed in their footsteps. Because of their sacrifices, we have become part of the history of salvation. To imagine what it would be like to face life—and to face our inevitable death—without knowing Jesus Christ? Too horrible to imagine fully.

But there are other horrors that we also must contemplate. This coming year, the nation of Mexico will commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire. The president of Mexico has written to the pope, asking for an official Church apology to the native tribes for this act of violence. One bishop in Mexico asked the president if he intended to make an official government apology for all the anti-Catholic violence done by the Mexican state in the 20th century. It all makes us Washingtonians losing the name of our football team seem like pretty small potatoes, by comparison.

How to deal with all these controversies that cut so deeply into our identity? Let’s stay focused on Jesus Himself. That’s what the martyrs did. We honor the martyred missionaries of our land not because they had success as political or military strategists, but because they lived as saints of God. We honor them because they walked in the footsteps of Christ crucified.

Plenty of the Lord Jesus’ followers tried to give to Him what belonged to Caesar. They wanted to march, with swords drawn, behind Him. But He would not take for Himself what belonged to Caesar.

The Christ conquered Jerusalem, to be sure, but not in the same way that Cortes conquered Mexico City. Christ made His conquest without committing any atrocities. Rather, He conquered the world for God by suffering a monumental atrocity. He suffered it fearlessly and with love.

Our Christian mission comes from Him, the gentle king. All the anger and acrimony of this world; all the lust for power; all the injustice and dishonesty—it all came crashing down upon His bloody brow. He absorbed it all. He did not return the blow. He had the armies of terrifying angels at His disposal. He could have torn the universe in two. Instead, He bowed His head humbly and died, with blessings on His lips. ‘Forgive them, Father. They know not what they do.’

Here’s our apology. We are sorry we did it to you, Lord. We are sorry. Forgive us, and make us Yours.

World Mission Sunday

So much to reflect on this Sunday, it’s almost too much. Bear with me here.

St. Isaac Jogues with missing fingers
St. Isaac Jogues with missing fingers

1. Sunday we mark 368 years since the martyrdom of St. Isaac Jogues, who died in upstate New York.

And he was by no means the only Jesuit who died for the faith on this continent. In 1571, eight Jesuits died as martyrs here in what is now Virginia.

We salute these greatest of American heroes. Before George Washington’s great-great-grandparents were conceived in their mothers’ wombs, the missionary martyrs of America gave their lives so that the people of this land could know the Good News.

2. In Rome on Sunday, our Holy Father will declare Pope Paul VI to be among the blessed in heaven.

Some of us, maybe, remember when Pope Paul governed the Church, which was from 1963 to 1978. The Beatification of Pope Paul concludes the Roman Synod that has studied marriage and family life these past two weeks, and which some of us may have heard something about in the newspaper or on tv. We had better discuss the Synod. But I think the Synod we had better discuss is actually the Synod on Evangelization, which took place in 1974. Let’s come back to that in a minute.

3. In the middle of all this, we hear our Lord say to us with His quiet wisdom: “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

Maybe you remember us talking about this gospel passage three years ago. We considered the challenge of actually trying to give God His due. We start at the altar: praising Him; offering the perfect sacrifice given to us by His Son; offering ourselves, along with Christ, to the Father. It all starts with Mass, and our whole lives are directed to the glory we come into contact with in the Holy Mass.

PopePaulVI
Blessed Pope Paul VI
But we have to give God His due outside church, too. And we give Him His due by following His solemn command that we love our neighbor. We truly love our neighbor by thinking of him or her in the exact same way that Christ thought of us, when he spread out His arms on the cross for us.

Which brings us to “repay to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” Our love for our fellowman means paying careful attention to our duties as citizens. Because we love God, we also seek, even in this fallen world, the great political goal known as “the common good.” And in a couple weeks, we who are of voting age have to figure out a way to cast a pro-life, pro-immigrant vote.

…But let’s go back to the memorable Synod of Bishops, which took place in Rome—in 1974, when Blessed Paul VI was pope. One topic on the table then was this:

Since we Catholics firmly believe that God is all-merciful and all-loving; since Jesus Christ, crucified for our salvation, has revealed the truth about God like nothing else ever could, we of course believe that God has a plan for absolutely everyone to be saved. This includes people who have never heard of Jesus or received the sacraments.

We ourselves know only one way to heaven—Holy Baptism, along with the other sacraments of the Church. But God knows more than we do, so we never despair about anyone’s salvation. The second Vatican Council re-echoed these truths, which can be found in the New Testament. God can find a way for anyone to get to heaven. How then do we understand our mission to evangelize?

Such was one of the pastoral problems posed by the Synod of Bishops which took place in the 1974. A good question. Allow me to quote what Blessed Pope Paul VI wrote:

It would be useful if every Christian were to pray about the following
thought: men can gain salvation also in other ways, by God’s mercy, even though we do not preach the Gospel to them. But as for us, can we gain salvation if—through negligence, or fear, or shame –if we ‘blush for the Gospel’–or as a result of false ideas, we fail to preach it?

For that would be to betray the call of God, who wishes the seed to bear fruit through the voice of the ministers of the Gospel; and it will depend on us whether this seed grows. [emphasis added]

Parkman Oregon Trail…Anyone ever heard of Francis Parkman, the writer? He wrote the definitive history books about the two centuries when Europeans and native tribes both lived in what is now the United States, with each living according to their own long-standing traditional way of life. That is, the 1600’s and 1700’s.

Parkman was an amazingly smart historian and gifted writer. That said, in his books, Parkman has a clear bias against some of the Indian tribes. One group, though, he held in even greater contempt. The Jesuits. Parkman’s phrase for the Jesuits in North America during colonial times is: “Romish zealots.”

Seems to me that this lays a challenge on us. When biased historians look back on the 21st century, will they find a record of what we have done, and conclude: What a bunch of Romish zealots!

May God give us the grace to water this land with our blood, sweat, and tears, because we Romish zealots won’t be satisfied until everyone has a chance to share in the grace that we have received in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

October 19, 2008

St. Isaac Jogues with missing fingers
St. Isaac Jogues with missing fingers
Generally speaking, on Sundays we do not keep the saints’ feast days. So today we did not keep the feast of the North American Martyrs. Nonetheless, it is good for us to call them to mind. Their blood shed for the faith sanctified this continent and made it a fertile ground for the Church.

They were Jesuits and lay men who accompanied the Jesuits to New France in the early 17th century. The two most famous among them are St. Isaac Jogues and St. John de Brebeuf. St. Isaac Jogues had two of his fingers bitten off by hostile Indians. He was given special permission by the Pope to continue to say Mass. Then he asked to be allowed to go back to North America, where he was killed.

There are two beautiful shrines of the North American Martyrs, both of which are very much worth visiting. One is located near Albany, New York, in Auriesville. This is the place where St. Isaac Jogues was killed.

North American Martyrs Shrine in Midland, Ontario
North American Martyrs Shrine in Midland, Ontario
Even more wonderful is the shrine in Midland, Ontario, north of Toronto. This is where St. John de Brebeuf was killed.

In addition to the beautiful shrine, there is also a reconstruction of the original Jesuit mission, which is evocative down to the last detail.

The Hurons lived a rough life there. They liked to season the dried fish they ate in the winter, but of course they had no salt. So they used ashes from the fire.

Clinton Portis and Co.
Clinton Portis and Co.

On a much more mundane note: Clinton Portis is awesome! It was not a pretty game. We will, however, take the W.

And poor, poor Dallas…losing to those scrubs, the St. Louis Rams. Maybe the Rams are actually not so bad after all.